Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’ has been in the back of my mind for a Sunday Sounds post since I started writing these, but I always passed it over in favor of something else and I can’t really say why. Maybe it just felt too easy or obvious, or it could be that I wasn’t sure how to write about it.
‘Wildflowers’ came out in 1994, around the time when I was beginning to dive into music and seek it out for myself, taking an active role rather than depend on radio or other people for it. At that point, I was knee deep in two distinct musical worlds: traditional rock/pop and metal. I’d spent a couple weeks of my spare time playing through the red and blue Beatles anthology records that belonged to my parents and a short time later, I played Metallica’s Master of Puppets on repeat for about three months. The punch I felt from Metallica, Pantera, Biohazard, and a host of other screaming, shredding, power-chord heavy bands seem to taken that punchiness right out of the more traditional rock music. I didn’t dislike classic rock, but it felt like I didn’t have as much room for it in my life.
I worked in the kitchen of a pizza joint in downtown Minneapolis around that time, cleaning up from the previous week and prepping for the next, and my coworker who was responsible for me and the other underage kid absolutely LOVED “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” especially after he learned that we also smoked pot. Everybody else seemed to love the song as well, because it was played constantly by a ton of radio stations. It said a lot about the song that brought a white boy from the suburbs and an older black guy from north Minneapolis to the same place. Tom Petty had cool videos going for him, and the SNL skit with him and Bob Dylan cracked me up, so there was always room for him, even if he was in coach.
My friend Steve remained more firmly rooted in the non-abrasive musical world and avoided Metallica, et al as best he could, branching off into the Grateful Dead and Phish instead. It was in Steve’s ’73 Monte Carlo where he introduced me to Wildflowers. We lived just outside of bus range for school, and he had a car AND gas was about a dollar a gallon, so of course we drove the mile to school. As such, it wasn’t a long car ride if you went straight home like a normal person, but a normal person Steve was not. He preferred to go as fast as idle would take him, which was somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 mph. We’d take the long way home in idle, or wherever we headed, so we could savor this album.
I used to pore over liner notes in albums, and I think it was around this time that I started to take note of how often I saw Rick Rubin’s name in them, in particular on the albums I thoroughly enjoyed. Take a look at his insane discography and you’ll see an impressive list of accomplishments, and likely a few favorites of your own. Tom Petty brought all the logs and the matches and Rick Rubin was the Boy Scout who set it all up just so, and allowed the fire to burn bright and hot.
‘Wildflowers’ is the perfect album for coming of age, for road trips, for falling in love, for breakups, for bonfires, for slow dances, mixtapes, and for Sundays. You could call it a Swiss army knife, assuming the Swiss Army is armed with an array of formative life moments. Playing through this album is like a mental scrapbook of high school and beyond, all the times that this album played the soundtrack, and amazingly enough, it never seems to be the same collection of moments.
This Sunday, take stock of the places and people that made you what you are, take a road trip to nowhere, take a moment to appreciate everything you have. Those people won’t always be there and if you’re lucky enough to still have them in your life, then I’m sure they’d appreciate a hello.